All photos by Ben Walsh unless otherwise captioned www.benwalshphotos.com
This was the 11th year of Wireless Festival in London, the most established of the summer festivals in the city, showcasing hip hop, RnB, grime and dance music. I have been a few times before but this was the first year myself and UHH attended as press. For anyone who hasn’t been to Wireless, let me paint you a picture. Reflecting the mixed line-up that spreads over the weekend, there isn’t an obvious day for one music genre (although in previous years I’m sure they divided it that way). Therefore, the crowd is a mix too. The highest turnout are the young girls, with braids in their hair and very little clothing on their body. I definitely saw some who were just about teenagers, wearing less than I would on a beach. But to be fair, if the sun is out in London (which thankfully it was) you’ve got limited time to enjoy it. Then you’ve got the lads – I call them lads on purpose because that’s what they are. Or at least, that’s what they want to be. Vests on, wayfarers in check and hoody round one shoulder, they’re looking for a good time. Of course you’ve got the classic ‘festival goers’ with denim cut-offs and floral patterns for days, these are mainly groups of girls and are the core British festival crowd. Finally, you’ve got the real music fans, who have come to see someone in particular, whether it be Bryson Tiller or Big Narstie, they are at the front barriers, singing all the words and scheduling their day to military time. So just imagine all those groups of people, in a big North London park, drinking cider and eating chips - that’s Wireless.
With Ben in tow to hold down the photography pits, we were keen to get going. But perhaps too keen, as it turns out there’s a lot of waiting around to do in the press area. Not even the jerk chicken stall was ready for us – so water and nuts it was. But slowly the tent started to fill up with videographers, photographers and journalists, all rehearsing their spiel before artists arrived.
[LIVE PERFORMANCE] KWABS
The first to come through was Geko (see separate piece to come) but it was a false start on the interview front, as there was more waiting after that initial spur of excitement. Not content with sitting out a festival in a marquee, I went to watch Kwabs perform as the opening act on the main stage. I’ve been a fan of him for a while; with a voice that sounds like butter and an impressive stage presence, I was glad I caught him. As the opening act, the crowd wasn’t fully formed but there was definitely enough of a core contingent singing along to his bigger tracks. He performed with a live band and backing singers, using the whole stage to his advantage. He mostly performed tracks from his new album, Love + War, as well as a cover of Justin Bieber’s ‘Love Yourself’, which was welcomed by the young female crowd. But the song I was waiting for was ‘Perfect Ruin’. I still remember the first time I heard this on the radio had to stop what I was doing because it was so mesmerizing and raw. Hearing Kwabs live far surpassed the radio experience; it felt like he was just singing to a few people even though there was a whole park in front of him.
Kwabs on Nicola’s iPhone
[LIVE PERFORMANCE] MIGUEL
Having been spiritually uplifted by Kwabs, I floated back to the press tent hoping to find another artist to speak to. I was almost able to meet Big Narstie on the DL through my new ally Eliane from Reprezent Radio. However, Big Narstie was otherwise engaged doing TV interviews and it didn’t seem likely. So Eliane and I went to catch Miguel on the main stage. I had seen him a few years’ before at Wireless, when he was on at a much earlier time with crowds still streaming in. I remember his tasseled leather jacket and immense stage presence, but he’s only improved with time.
Miguel knows how to put on a show, with a live band and backing singers dressed all in white to match him, you couldn’t draw away your gaze. Constantly moving around the stage – on his knees, on his tip toes and on speakers, he didn’t stay still for long. Not to mention his voice is exceptionally clean, with an acapella I could listen to for days. But no doubt the most rousing part of his set was the special version of Kaleidoscope Dreams in light of the tragic events in the US. You could tell it was weighing heavy on his heart, but like a true professional, he opted to pour emotion into the song as opposed to falling flat. In fact, Miguel had posted a song on his SoundCloud only that morning because he couldn’t sleep.
iPhone – Nicola UHH
With tears streaming down his face, and not hiding it, he drew the crowd into his pain. This was no ‘performance’ – Miguel was bravely bearing us his soul, reticent to ignore the proverbial elephant in the room, and I’m glad he didn’t. He spoke about police brutality: “We can’t let shit just blow over and not take action anymore”…because “our children will inherit this earth when we’re gone. What are we leaving for them? What are doing for the now, not tomorrow? Now! now! now!” This powerful interlude was a rare insight into the true feelings of a global RnB artist and I’m grateful he let us in. He continued with Coffee and my personal favorite, How Many, ending the set on a high, but for sure he made an impression on the day.
[LIVE PERFORMANCE] BIG NARSTIE
Keeping a keen eye on stage schedules, we went to catch Big Narstie’s set on Stage 3 – an artist you don’t want to miss live. Ben was in the pit for this one and caught some shots of the man in all his glory. There was an odd juxtaposition between the filler music before his set – generic pop/dance - to Big Narstie’s grime and I wondered who was at fault for this oversight. But it didn’t matter, it took only one song before Big Narstie whipped off his t-shirt (this is to be expected) and showed us what real men are made of, and of course the crowd ate it up.
He began with an acapella version of his latest single, BDL Anthem, followed by the banger Gas Pipe. With the stage area packed out, some people obviously didn’t knowing who they were watching, whereas others were shouting back all the lyrics whilst in the mosh pit, which made for an electric atmosphere.
[CHANCE ENCOUNTER] VIC MENSA
We stopped off at the press tent to see if any interviews were to be had, and it was just our luck that Lady Leshurr was stopping by. Look out for our feature article on the interview and her live performance over the next few days, but here’s a sneaky photo for now.
On a high from chatting to the Queen of Grime, we went off to catch Bryson Tiller. However, we had only walked a few meters when we came across Vic Mensa wandering through the guest area. Holding a bottle of Patron, he was assumedly walking back from his earlier performance. I took the opportunity to photograph him on my iPhone (Ben was at a stage) and if nothing else, it’s proof this really happened.
Vic Mensa looking fresh on Nicola’s iPhone
I wouldn’t keep it anything other than real with you, so honestly, I forgot all my planned questions. I couldn’t think of anything else to do but put my hand out and introduce myself. I asked him how his performance went, to which he replied with something positive. I basically then asked him the same question again: “This was the first time performing your new EP outside of the US, how were the crowd?” and he said, “The crowd was feeling it.” It seemed like Vic was really engaging with me, until I realized I was wearing reflective sunglasses and not only could he not see my eyes, he was simply looking at himself in the reflection – I really don’t blame him though, his look was on point. With my head blank and adrenalin flowing, I invited Vic to join us at Bryson Tiller. A ‘yes’ would have been nothing short of a miracle so his polite reply of “I think I’m going to chill here for a bit” was fine by me. Definitely the highlight of the day #fangirl.
[LIVE PERFORMANCE] BRYSON TILLER
Exhilarated by our brief encounter, we ran to the furthest stage to see Bryson (as a life rule, I only run in the most crucial of moments). After weaving through the crowd like only two steely-eyed girls can, we got a prime spot. J-Louis, Bryson’s DJ, warmed up with some Travis Scott and Drake, so we were sweaty and ready for Bryson to levitate us to the place of broken hearts, love and lust than he owns so well. This was the third time I had seen Bryson live this year, together with the countless times I’ve listened to Trapsoul, but his performance made me feel like I was hearing it for the first time. He pretty much ran through the album, but played a few pre-Trapsoul tracks I wasn’t expecting, which was welcomed by his core fans at the front. He finished with a rousing performance of Right My Wrongs (an underrated track) with a live female vocalist. Definitely worth the run, Bryson can do no wrong. All I ask now is if he could create some new magic – more studio, less stage!
Nicola UHH & Eliane from Reprezent Radio, making the most of down time in the press area
[LIVE PERFORMANCE PHOTOS] KURUPT FM
We wrote about Kurupt FM in Who We’re Looking Out For At Day 1 piece, so take a look there to read what they’re all about. Luckily, Ben was able to catch some masterful shots of the group whilst we were swaying to Bryson (who didn’t allow photographers unfortunately). Although sad to miss Kurupt live, festival clashes are an unfortunate reality. However, Ben gave us this insight into the set: “Kurupt FM really brought their comedic value to the stage with Chabuddy G warming up the crowd, and DJ Steves playing banger after banger of old school UK G tracks.” We’ll catch you next time, Kurupt.
DJ Fantasy & Decoy
And just like that, Wireless Day 1 was coming to a close. Calvin Harris was headlining and I wasn’t too bothered about catching the whole set – which obviously wasn’t the right attitude to have because inexplicably, Will Smith introduced him. I still haven’t worked out that connection but if the Fresh Prince is around to bring you on stage, why not? The other surprise and seemingly out of place guest was Big Sean. Not complaining though, he performed IDFWU, which was a well-timed warm up for his own set on Sunday. The other guest was as predicted (at least I got one right) as Dizzee Rascal came on stage to perform their latest collab, Hype. A song created with festivals in mind, the crowd obviously went mad for it, especially as Dizzee doesn’t perform much these days. The set was an impressive display of pyrotechnics, laser beams, visuals and smoke machines, exactly what you’d expect from a DJ headline festival set.
So how was UHH’s first experience of Wireless? Superb. From chatting with artists, to witnessing and photographing high quality live music and of course, meeting Vic Mensa – it was a proud day for UHH, representing New York in London town. Thank you Wireless - we hope to do it all again next year.